Banks not on the money to chase

11 February 2019

 

Former politician and minister Peter Reith has an unusual gap inside his political career.  Although history shows him being elected to Federal Parliament in 1982, when he won a by-election for the Liberal Party, he had to wait around two years before he actually took his seat.

Why is this gap unusual?  Well, Reith had his by-election win in late 1982, when parliamentary sittings were finished for the year and wouldn’t resume until the next year.  But before sittings could resume, there came a general election, and Reith lost his seat – before he’d even taken it.  However, another general election came around the end of the following year, and Reith regained the seat that he lost earlier, after which he held it for many years.

I can’t think of any other examples of politicians winning seats and losing them before taking them, only to win again later.  While I’ve heard of newly-elected politicians passing away before taking their seats, Reith’s record of winning and losing without sitting is rare.

When Reith was first elected to Parliament in late 1982, it was via a by-election for the Victorian seat of Flinders, to the south-east of Melbourne, following the resignation of Liberal stalwart Sir Phillip Lynch.  A general election came months later, in early 1983, and Flinders was one of many seats falling to the Labor Party with the popular Bob Hawke as leading.  Hawke called another election in late 1984, which he won, while Reith regained Flinders for the Liberals.

Going on to be a senior minister in the Howard Government, Reith held Flinders until retiring in 2001.  His successor then was Greg Hunt, who’s still there today.

Hunt held Flinders by a fairly safe margin after the last Federal election, in July 2016.  But the Liberals have become increasingly unpopular with voters since that election, and of late they’ve become especially unpopular in Victoria.  Some observers believe that Hunt could lose his seat at the next election, even though Labor hasn’t held it since the period of Reith’s gap.

That said, Hunt will have something of an unusual challenge when the election comes.  He faces not just the usual challenge from Labor, but an extra challenger in the form of Julia Banks, a disaffected Liberal MP from eastern Melbourne.

The motivation for Banks could only be described as revenge – no matter how much she denies it.  She was elected to the seat of Chisholm at the last election, and was in fact the only Liberal candidate to win a seat from Labor then.  With the Liberals only just winning the election, she might’ve been the person who saved the Liberals from defeat.  But in the aftermath of events which prompted Malcolm Turnbull to resign as Liberal leader and Prime Minister last year, Banks initially announced that she wouldn’t recontest her seat.  She later walked away from the Liberals to sit on the crossbench as an Independent.  Now she’s decided to leave her seat and run against Hunt in his seat, because of a perception that Hunt played a key role in the demise of Turnbull, who was considered popular among Victorian voters in particular.  Considering that Banks is leaving an urban seat to run in a semi-urban one, well away from her current base, her challenge to Hunt seems illogical.  Certainly it makes no sense to me, and I can’t understand what she’s thinking in doing it.

If anything, Banks might only win over a proportion of voters peeved over what happened to Turnbull but unable to trust Labor.  Even though this proportion might be large, she’ll probably be nothing more than a spoiler.

Hunt’s seat might’ve stayed in Liberal hands since Reith won it in 1984, following his loss in 1983.  But it’s been in Labor’s hands a few times during its existence, and it would’ve been vulnerable for the Liberals at times.  If it’s going to change hands at election time, it’s more likely to fall to Labor than to an Independent.

Of course, it’s not unprecedented for Independents to win seats which usually swing between the major parties.  I recall the seat of Calare, in rural NSW, falling to Independent candidate Peter Andren in 1996, after previously swinging from one major party to another.  Indeed Independent MP Andrew Wilkie currently holds a seat which previously swung from one major party to another.  Although Independents can win seats which sometimes swing, I can’t see Banks winning Flinders under these circumstances.

Hunt faces a hard challenge without pressure from Banks.  But as she’s coming from outside, and acting out of malice, she looks unlikely to beat him.  Therefore she’s not in the money to chase, or hunt for, this seat – if you’ll pardon the puns here.  Labor will more likely beat Hunt if he loses, with or without Banks.

 

Advertisements

State of bad signs for Morrison

9 February 2019

 

The fortunes of political parties can sometimes spread from one level to another when elections come.  But this doesn’t always happen.  How often have we heard arguments about voters punishing governments at one level in order to express their dissatisfaction with governments at another level?

Of course, there’s nothing new about voters using Federal elections to show their anger with State and Territory governments, and vice versa.  At times, this anger has affected election outcomes.  That said, the question of whether or not voters confuse issues between levels when they head to polling booths at elections will probably never be settled.

This question might hover in relation to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who got the job when elected leader of the Liberal Party just a few months ago.  He ended up in charge after a leadership spill finished off Malcolm Turnbull, who seemed popular with voters but had many enemies among Liberal MPs.  Have Morrison and the Federal Liberals really become poisonous for their counterparts at lower levels, as far as elections go?

Not long after Morrison’s rise to PM, the Labor Party had a big win at an election in Victoria.  Many people cited to the downfall of Turnbull, who was rated pretty popular in Victoria, as a factor in Labor’s big win.  Now an election looms in New South Wales, and many people believe that Turnbull’s downfall might well play on the minds of voters there as well.

But it’s worth considering what happened when John Howard was PM, between 1996 and 2007.  Although he won three elections after first taking office, he saw not that many victories at lower level for his side of politics.

When he became PM, there were Coalition parties governing in every state and territory except NSW.  In reference the Coalition parties, along with the Liberals there were the Nationals.  There was also the Country Liberal Party, which only existed in the Northern Territory.

In the year of Howard’s first election win, the Coalition parties enjoyed election wins in Victoria and Western Australia.  They had wins in the Northern Territory and South Australia the following year, and then a win in the Australian Capital Territory the year after that.

But history shows that the ACT win was the last for the Coalition parties during Howard’s time as PM – apart from his own three election wins.

Months after that ACT win, the Coalition parties lost office in both Queensland and Tasmania.  A year later, they lost office in Victoria.  They then lost in Western Australia and both Territories in 2001, and in South Australia in 2002.  That loss in South Australia left Howard with only Labor governments beneath him, even though he’d won his third Federal election during this period.  It stayed this way until he lost office at a Federal election in 2007.

History also shows that, since Howard’s defeat, no PM has won an election and survived to fight the next election.  Every PM has been dumped in a leadership coup, usually amid signs of unpopularity.

The Labor leader who beat Howard to become PM in 2007, Kevin Rudd, enjoyed being amid wall-to-wall Labor governments.  During Rudd’s time, Labor enjoyed five wins in six elections, losing only in Western Australia.

After a leadership coup in 2010, Julia Gillard replaced Rudd as PM.  She watched Labor lose five elections out of six, with long-serving Labor governments ousted in four of them.  Only in the ACT did Labor win during Gillard’s time as PM.

To be fair, longevity in office will take its toll.  Maybe it was unlucky that Gillard was in office at the same time as long-serving Labor governments, which almost certainly were deserving to lose in their own right.  But it wasn’t a good look.

Another coup restored Rudd in 2013, but he lost an election to Tony Abbott soon after.  In Abbott’s time, there were five elections.  The Coalition parties won two of them, but lost three of them.  Worse still, two of the Coalition’s election losses were for first-term governments – it’s rare for first-term governments anywhere in Australia to be defeated, so it wasn’t a good look for Abbott.

Another coup saw Turnbull replace Abbott in 2015.  Turnbull saw six elections, with the Coalition parties losing the first four but winning the remaining two.

Since the downfall of Turnbull, Morrison has watched the Coalition parties lose in Victoria.  Will he watch them lose in NSW as well?

The leadership sagas at national level over the last decade would’ve undoubtedly disillusioned voters everywhere.  And next month they might affect NSW, even though the Coalition Government there looks increasingly unpopular.  Perhaps this suggests a state of bad signs for Morrison – if you’ll pardon the pun.  But the apparent lack of popularity for the Coalition parties in the States and Territories didn’t turn out to be a problem for Howard, who kept winning Federal elections and became only the second PM in Australian history to govern for ten years.

Coalition people still regard Howard highly today, more than ten years following his departure from politics.  Morrison might look to Howard’s success for some sort of motivation, despite the Coalition’s trouble outside the Federal scene back then.  The views of voters in NSW might reflect the national mood, but nothing should be assumed as guaranteed in this respect.

 

Abbott not that easy to dislodge

27 January 2019

 

The mere mentioning of Ted Mack probably makes many people in the Liberal Party go cold.  After all, a few prominent Liberal careers ended at the hands of Mack, the former Independent politician who passed away late last year.

Many years ago, Mack was a popular mayor in the North Sydney region.  During this period, he ran for State Parliament in New South Wales, and in 1981 he won the seat of North Shore, beating none other than the Liberal leader at the time, namely Bruce McDonald.  This marked the second consecutive election in which the NSW Liberal leader of the day lost his own seat – the previous being the unseating in 1978 of Peter Coleman.  These losses would’ve embarrassed the Liberals greatly.

After winning North Shore in 1981, Mack held the seat until resigning in 1988.  Two years later, probably thinking that he still had much to give, he contested a Federal election and beat Liberal MP John Spender to win the seat of North Sydney.  He held the seat until retiring in 1996.

Back in NSW Parliament, Independents hit the headlines after a deadlocked election in 1991.  Although relatively popular, Premier Nick Greiner lost his majority in that election, and could only govern with the support of crossbenchers.  A year later, the crossbenchers brought Greiner’s premiership to an premture end because of alleged corruption over a governmental appointment.

I remember the 1991 election well, as I’d never before heard of elections triggering hung parliaments or minority governments until then.

One of the crossbenchers to bring down Greiner was Peter Macdonald.  He’d beaten one of Greiner’s ministers, David Hay, to win the seat of Manly in 1991.  He held the seat until retiring in 1999.

Two years later, Macdonald suddenly came out of retirement to run for the Federal seat of Warringah in an election where immigration had become a big issue.  There was talk that Macdonald might have a chance of beating prominent Liberal MP and minister Tony Abbott.  Although Abbott ultimately held the seat quite comfortably, Macdonald arguably made him work harder than he’d ever worked in an election since first winning the seat in a by-election in 1994.  And Abbott hasn’t worked that hard since Macdonald pushed him.

The thing to remember about the seat of Warringah, on Sydney’s affluent northern beaches, is that the Labor Party has no realistic chance of winning it.  For probably longer than anyone can remember, it’s been safe for the Liberals in typical contests against Labor.  It’s one of those seats where people normally vote for or against the Liberals, and those voting against the Liberals invariably end up voting for Labor, because they have no clear alternative.  Similarly, many seats have people normally voting for or against Labor, and the non-Labor vote invariably going to the Liberals.

Seats like these sometimes fall to Independents.  I’ve seen plenty of them going this way as such, in situations of voters being very unhappy with the Liberals but unable to trust Labor – and vice versa.  Some Independents in Federal Parliament nowadays hold such seats, such as Kerryn Phelps and Cathy McGowan, both being traditionally in Liberal hands until they won them.  Also, Adam Bandt holds a seat for the Greens in circumstances where Labor would’ve otherwise held it very easily in traditional election contests against the Liberals.

The thought of the time when Macdonald pushed Abbott, back in 2001, has hovered in my mind of late.  In recent months, there’s been talk of an Independent candidate, or possibly several Independent candidates, challenging Abbott at the next Federal election.  One of the most controversial politicians in Australian history, Abbott has long been loved in conservative circles and hated in progressive circles.  For longer than I can remember, progressive activists have been extremely vocal in expressing their hatred of Abbott, and they’re itching to see him gone from politics.

But Abbott’s critics have perhaps only now begun to realise that his political career won’t end that easily.  Voters in Warringah simply can’t abide Labor, whatever their opinion of the Liberal candidate of the day might be.  And they’re not going to vote Abbott out simply on the basis of endless shouting and hassling by loudmouths who can’t abide him.  It doesn’t work that way.

Lately, instead of just moaning and shouting, Abbott’s critics have been trying hard to find a non-Labor candidate in Warringah, ideally an Independent who supports the Liberals on perhaps most issues, except climate change and same-sex marriage and a few other things.  Such a candidate, if one can be found, might trouble Abbott, but he’s not that easy to dislodge.

Abbott’s critics might’ve drawn inspiration from Phelps, the Independent who won the safe Liberal seat of Wentworth in a by-election last year, following the downfall of Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader and Prime Minister.  Wentworth is something like Warringah in terms of having mostly well-off voters, angry with the Liberals because of their perceived inaction on tackling climate change.

But I heard a Warringah local say that economic policy helped Phelps in Wentworth, because she doesn’t believe in taxing well-off people to their eyeballs, unlike Labor, so might this be a clue as to why Warringah locals can’t abide Labor?

Many people would like to see Abbott gone from politics.  But Labor can’t beat him, though good Independent candidates could do so.

 

Hubris among minor parties

13 January 2019

 

Few Australians need reminding of 2019 being an election year.  It looks quite likely that a Federal election will be held in May.  Federal elections in Australia are due every three years, and with the most recent of these having taken place in July 2016, the latest possible election date is during May, although the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, can call it earlier in the year if he wishes.

It’s unlikely that Morrison will call the election before May, partly because the opinion polls suggest a looming defeat for the Liberal-National Coalition that Morrison leads.  If he looks like losing, he wouldn’t be keen to bring it on early.

Another reason for May being the likely Federal election month is a looming election in New South Wales, the largest of Australia’s states.  The NSW election has long been fixed for March this year.  Any clashing of election campaigns doesn’t exactly help the concerned parties.  In NSW the Coalition has been in power since 2011, and it’s showing signs of unpopularity, but hardly helping would be the unpopularity of the Coalition at the Federal level.

Putting aside the NSW election, the Federal Coalition looks headed for defeat when its time for facing the voters comes.

Even though opinion polls point to a comfortable victory for the Labor Party, which lost office at a Federal election in 2013 and came very close to an surprise win three years later, concerns still loom.  Labor hasn’t exactly been inspiring confidence among voters, who look like electing Labor more because of distaste for the Coalition.  Despite the unpopularity of the Coalition, though, Morrison leads Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in terms of being preferred PM.  Shorten became Labor leader after Labor lost office in 2013, and he’s never been that popular with voters, even after coming close to victory in 2016.  I know people who’ve said that they’d vote for Labor if not for Shorten – does that say it all?

Under circumstances where voters have increasingly found the Coalition and Labor equally uninspiring, minor parties have sometimes won seats at election time.  Over the last decade or so, the Greens have been successful most often when it came to winning seats.  Of late, their popularity has also begun to drop away, but the fortunes of alternatives have been mixed.

Late last year, an election in Victoria, the second-biggest of Australia’s states, brought a helping of minor parties into parliamentary seats there.  Obtaining were parties with names like Transport Matters, Sustainable Australia, Animal Justice, and the Liberal Democrats.  But their success was thought lucky.  They often won only small proportions of the vote, but before election time they made deals to swap preferences with each other, in order to ensure that their votes didn’t flow back to the major parties and the Greens.  Therefore, when minor parties were eliminated during the progressive counting of votes, other minor parties still in the race would receive their preferences.

Some minor parties will undoubtedly win seats at the looming Federal election, especially in the Senate, where about 14.3 per cent of the vote in a state ensures one Senate seat.  Although I don’t expect any minor party to have support that strong at the election, a share of the vote in the range of 5-10 per cent definitely will give any party a chance in any given state.

In terms of Senate seats up for grabs at the coming election, prospects appear mixed for minor parties.  There are six seats per state up for grabs, and usually the major parties between them win five.  The minor parties will need a decent share of the vote to have a chance.

The Coalition has two Senate seats up for grabs in four out of six states, apart from three seats in South Australia and one seat in Tasmania.

Labor has a mixed bag in terms of Senate seats up for grabs.  Two states have only one Labor seat each, three states have two Labor seats each, and Tasmania has three Labor seats.

The minor parties have three seats up for grabs in NSW, and two each elsewhere.

The Coalition will probably hold most of its seats, but I tip a seat loss in South Australia and a seat gain in Tasmania.  Labor will hold all of its seats and gain more, especially in NSW and South Australia, the two states where it currently holds only one seat each.  But its gains will probably come from minor parties, who often win only one seat per state and have two seats up for grabs in most states at this election.

The danger from the Victorian election last year relates to hubris.  After winning many seats with small votes, hubris might creep in among minor parties, who might think that they can repeat their Victorian wins in the Federal election.

The result in Victoria won’t be repeated at the Federal election, unless individual minor parties get at least 5-10 per cent of the Senate vote in any given state.

The next election will still leave enough Senate seats in the hands of the minor parties for the election winner to have to negotiate to pass laws.  But the minor parties will lose seats, and they can’t afford to get cocky about their chances.

 

World of elections going many ways

29 December 2018

 

Lots of people have observed that more than a decade has passed since the person becoming Prime Minister of Australia at one election has survived to fight the next one.  That person was John Howard, who won four elections from 1996 to 2004, and was defeated at an election in 2007.  Since Howard’s defeat, no PM has survived to fight the next election, with MPs deciding to act before voters could.

Kevin Rudd beat Howard in 2007, but his MPs dumped him in favour of Julia Gillard ahead of a due election in 2010.  Gillard narrowly survived that 2010 election, but the same MPs turning to her at that time went back to Rudd ahead of a due election in 2013, though Rudd still lost to Tony Abbott.

Never popular with voters despite winning the 2013 election, Abbott survived one leadership challenge in 2015, but was later dumped in favour of Malcolm Turnbull, who in turn narrowly survived a due election in 2016.  Although Turnbull proved more popular than Abbott, many MPs still disliked him, and they managed to dump him this year, with Scott Morrison becoming PM as a result.

Now opinion polls suggest that Morrison will lose the next election, due next year, despite doubts about the Opposition.  Time will tell how Morrison fares.

But as an Australian, when I see what’s been happening across the world over recent years and what’s due in coming years, I’m still satisfied with what I’ve got, in terms of our political scene and elections.

Interestingly, when it comes to elections across the world, there’s been considerable attention since late 2016 on a place not having a big election until late 2020 – namely the United States of America.  Somehow, events there might’ve been spurring events elsewhere, although not always so.

Ever since Donald Trump became US President in 2016, this loudmouthed billionaire with a knack for inflammatory rhetoric has made a mark splitting people’s minds.

Critics might long for the end of Trump’s presidency, but they haven’t really sought to understand why Americans were peeved enough to vote for Trump.  Their dismay has overridden rational thought.  To be fair, voters had a chance to send a message this year, in elections for the US Congress, but the message was mixed.  The elections saw Trump’s opponents take control of the House of Representatives, but they failed to take control of the Senate.  Even though Trump won in 2016, many people within his own party don’t regard him as one of their own, and he might have some trouble ahead of the 2020 election.  Much attention will be his rivals, both inside and outside his party, as far as identifying possible contenders in 2020.

Of course, there’s more to the world of elections than just what happens in the US.

On Trump’s side of the world, in the Americas, election results in various countries have been mixed in recent years, with the year ahead to be mixed.  Last year, Chile had a right-winger winning a presidential election.  This year, a right-winger with some Trump-like rhetoric won a presidential election in Brazil, while a left-winger won a presidential election in Mexico.  There was also a presidential election rated as rigged in Venezuela, where a socialist incumbent made it back – not many people think that the election was a fair result.  Next year, elections will happen in Canada and Argentina, with respectively a left-winger and a right-winger after new terms.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, election results have varied through Europe.  Last year, right-wingers had expectations of winning elections in the Netherlands and France, but they lost – arguably because their rivals were only different from them in terms of having no inflammatory rhetoric.  Also, an election in the United Kingdom almost saw a left-winger winning, while an election in Germany left the Chancellor taking months to form a governing coalition.  This year, an anti-immigration leader claimed an election win in Hungary.  Next year, a left-wing leader faces elections in Greece, where debt has been a big issue.

Down in Africa, which doesn’t always attract much attention when elections come around, disputes seem frequent.  Last year, a presidential election in Kenya caused much drama because of alleged irregularities.  This year, there were doubts about the legitimacy of elections in Egypt and Zimbabwe.  Next year, elections will happen in two countries with massive populations, Nigeria and South Africa.

To the north and the east of Africa, elections have been questionable or meaningless to some degree.  Last year, while a moderate won a new term as President of Iran, conservative hardliners still hold sway there.  This year, elections occurred in Russia and Turkey, but they were perceived as merely consolidating the authority of their leaders, who look like eliminating democracy.  Next year, an election occurs in Israel, a country with neighbours disputing its right to even exist.

Finally, in Asia and the Pacific region, elections have seemingly gone by.  Last year, Japan had an election with the Prime Minister appearing to consolidate, while New Zealand saw a new leader victorious after cobbling a coalition together.  This year, Malaysia had an election with the Prime Minister defeated amid major corruption allegations.  Next year, elections occur in hugely populous India and Indonesia.

This might seem like a world of elections going many ways.  But the relative stability existing in Australia will satisfy me almost every time.

 

New leadership changes little

23 December 2018

 

The Labor Party has a challenge going into a general election in New South Wales which happens in March next year.  It doesn’t really look like it has a chance to defeat the Liberal-National Coalition, which seeks a third term in power after it was first elected in 2011.  The Coalition has a workable parliamentary majority, and it’s got a lot of infrastructure either built or being built, which according to many observers makes for a contrast with what Labor did when it last governed.

Of course, building infrastructure alone doesn’t guarantee success.  The Coalition would have voters believe that much of the building will stop if Labor wins the next election, given that Labor has promised to stop a number of projects.  This argument might hold sway, even though some infrastructure projects have been subject to local opposition and protests.  Mind you, we’d have to see if opposition to infrastructure here sways the election.

Questions have been raised about whether NSW, especially Sydney, needs what the Coalition has build or is building.  Road tunnels and unit blocks in particular have raised much ire around Sydney.  And Labor has unsettled the Coalition in opposing plans to spend billions on rebuilding some sporting stadiums, which Labor considers wasteful, especially when problems with schools and hospitals matter more to voters.

In terms of the election, the Coalition has a decent majority, and Labor has some work to do when it comes to winning.  The last election, in 2015, saw the Coalition win fifty-four of ninety-three seats in the Lower House, meaning at the time that it could lose seven seats next time and still have a majority.  Labor came away from the last election with thirty-four seats, meaning that it needs thirteen gains to take power.  Of five remaining seats, the Greens took three and Independents took two.  This left Labor needing to pick up almost two seats for every Coalition seat lost, with the Greens and the Independents making Labor’s job harder.

Since 2015, the Coalition has lost two seats in by-elections, but to crossbenchers rather than Labor.  As such, Labor’s job for the next election remains hard.

Not helping Labor at this time would’ve been a leadership change a month ago.

Luke Foley was Labor leader at the last election, achieving a big swing, although it wasn’t big enough for victory because the Coalition had a massive majority following an almighty routing of Labor in 2011.  Up until last month, Foley was thought to be in with a chance of winning the next election, but not due to stuff that he’d done as leader.  In light of some controversial decisions, the Coalition was becoming increasingly unpopular, and now it’s rated vulnerable.  But after revelations broke of some unmanly behaviour at a party, Foley suddenly resigned as leader.  Following Foley’s downfall, the new Labor leader is Michael Daley.

What chance does Daley have of victory at the next election?  It’s hard to say.

Even though two major newspapers in Sydney published separate opinion polls showing Daley as having a chance of leading Labor to victory just a few weeks after his rise to the leadership, they might well have reflected more on trouble afflicting the Coalition.  I didn’t see Daley as a potential leader when questions were raised over recent years about Labor’s leadership, and I still don’t consider him a credible alternative as Premier.

Daley has been in Parliament since winning a by-election in the southern Sydney seat of Maroubra in 2005.  This followed the departure of Bob Carr, who’d just resigned after ten years as Premier and seventeen years as Labor leader.  Labor was having problems after Carr left, but the unpopularity of the Coalition gave Labor another term in office in 2007.  However, Labor began to implode after that victory, and before losing office in 2011, it’d become scandal-ridden.

During that bad time, Daley became a minister in the Labor Government.  When Labor lost office, he was still there, but perhaps it was because he’d somehow managed to keep out of trouble, as other ministers got caught up in one scandal after another.  Merely surviving until the election made Daley look like a good minister.  The election saw many of his ministerial colleagues, including Verity Firth and David Borger, lose their seats.

Since then, Daley hasn’t exactly done much as an Opposition frontbencher when it comes to constructive contribution or policy ideas.  Indeed he’s been observed as something of a bully in Parliament, and he’s even been accused of entering parliamentary debates in a drunken state.  How can he be taken seriously?

Foley mightn’t have been making a difference as Opposition Leader before his dramatic downfall.  But his successor looks no better at this stage.  While Labor holds out much hope for Daley, I suspect that this new leadership really changes little.  Daley will have just a few months to prove critics wrong.

 

Labor victorious in Victoria and how

21 December 2018

 

Victorians have given Daniel Andrews a second term as Premier and how.  That best best way of summing up the result of the general election that took place in Victoria last month.  Andrews led the Labor Party into office with an election victory in 2014, and now they’ve earned a second term.

Opinion polls suggested a swing of about 1-2 per cent to Labor, but the swing turned out to be much bigger, and Labor came out with a majority bigger than forecast.

The Liberal-National Coalition suffered a humiliating defeat, losing seats for the first time in ages, if at all.  To be fair, few observers believed that the Coalition could win, but losing the election by a slightly bigger margin than that in 2014 would’ve seemed realistic.  However, on election night the result looked like a massacre, although the final outcome wasn’t quite the massacre initially looming.

Andrews clearly had the better of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who didn’t look or sound like a credible alternative.

How could Labor thrash the Coalition like it did last month?  Observers suggest that Labor looked like it was getting things done, in terms of infrastructure.  While Labor caused some controversy with its cancellation of a road tunnel in inner Melbourne, other infrastructure projects were completed, especially when it came to removing level crossings from Melbourne’s railway network.  The Victorian economy was also looking good, which would’ve helped Labor.  Although Labor had some difficulties regarding crime and entitlement misuse, the Coalition didn’t seem to take advantage of them.  The Coalition also didn’t look like it had a credible agenda of its own.

Some observers also suggest that the Coalition in Victoria suffered because of events in Federal Parliament.  When the Liberal Party lost Malcolm Turnbull as leader and Prime Minister in August, following agitation from many conservative Liberal MPs who hated Turnbull’s principles on environmental issues like climate change, voters were dismayed and angry.  Despite being behind Labor in opinion polls, there was enough support for the Coalition to stay competitive in the polls, and Turnbull was in part why it was competitive.  Only after Turnbull’s downfall has it become clear that his view stand on climate change and other issues resonated, and still resonates now, across much of the country.  This was arguably true in Victoria, where voters liked Turnbull much more than his predecessor, Tony Abbott.  They also hated Peter Dutton, who initially challenged Turnbull for the leadership and lost before another challenge brought Turnbull down, although Scott Morrison emerged as leader rather than Dutton.  Labor probably played on the anger of Victorians over what happened to Turnbull, putting Abbott with Guy in its attack on the Coalition in Victoria.  Those events in Federal Parliament might well have hurt the Coalition in Victoria.

In terms of my tips for the Victorian election, I predicted a number of seats to change hands – but few of them did.  And other seats changed hands when I predicted them to stay as they were.  But I was probably in good company here, because Labor had such a big swing, beyond what the polls suggested.

Out of eighty-eight available seats in the Lower House, Labor took fifty-five, while the Coalition took twenty-seven.  The Greens and Independents took three apiece.

I’d tipped Labor to gain Ripon and Burwood from the Coalition, and Prahran from the Greens.  I’d also tipped Labor to retake Melton, held by an Independent formerly with Labor but retiring at the election.  Here I only got Burwood and Melton right.

Also, I’d tipped Labor to lose two seats to the Coalition, one of them largely because the Coalition previously lost it after problems with the local MP and the other one because of the retirement of a Labor MP without whom I didn’t see Labor holding, while the departure of another Labor MP made me tip Labor to lose inner suburban Brunswick to the Greens.  Here I only got Brunswick right.

Needless to say, neither of my tips of Coalition gains happened.  Labor also gained the Coalition seats of Bass, Bayswater, Box Hill, Hawthorn, Mount Waverley, Nepean, Ringwood, and South Barwon from the Coalition – none of which I’d tipped.

Another Labor gain was Northcote, returning to the fold after the Greens had taken it in a by-election last year.  I hadn’t tipped this.  While I’d tipped the Greens to win Brunswick, I didn’t think that they’d hold Prahran, narrowly won in 2014.

Ex-National Russell Northe held Morwell as an Independent, while an Independent also took Mildura from the Nationals.

In the Upper House, Labor won eighteen of forty seats and the Coalition won eleven, while the Greens went into the election with five seats but lost four of them.  Other minor parties won other seats in the Upper House, three of them going to a political party set up by Senator Derryn Hinch.  Also getting elected were names like Animal Justice, Sustainable Australia, Transport Matters, and the Liberal Democrats.

The result of this election has been a big win for Labor.  It could best be described perhaps as Labor victorious in Victoria and how.  Labor will take much heart from this win, despite some difficulties before the election took place.

 

Mack the life to inspire others

15 December 2018

 

Rarely might politics have seen, or see again, the likes of Ted Mack.  This man was long ago a popular mayor in northern Sydney, who later served in the New South Wales Parliament and then Federal Parliament over more than a decade to follow.

Mack, who passed away last month, was a very popular politician in his day.  And many people regard him as the quintessential Independent MP, whose reputation and work inspired others.

While serving as a mayor in northern Sydney, he ran as an Independent candidate for NSW Parliament in September 1981, and he won the seat of North Shore.  He held the seat at subsequent elections in 1984 and 1988, before resigning.  He then ran for Federal Parliament in 1990, winning the seat of North Sydney and holding it until his retirement.

His victory in North Shore in 1981 would’ve caused quite a stir at the time.  It was because he ended up defeating Bruce McDonald, who was then the leader of the Liberal Party in NSW.  This marked the second consecutive election in which the Liberals had lost their own leader – Peter Coleman had led the Liberals three years earlier and lost his own seat as well as an election back then.

In fact, when McDonald was defeated in 1981, he’d been running for North Shore, which was a new seat back then.  He’d held the seat of Kirribilli since 1976.  But before the 1981 election, an electoral redistribution saw Kirribilli abolished and North Shore created.  Unsurprisingly, he ran for North Shore.

But Mack decided to run for North Shore as an Independent, pitting him against McDonald.  Although the Labor Party had been governing in NSW for five years, North Shore wasn’t a seat that it had a chance of winning – even though it’d won the nearby seats of Willoughby and Manly at the previous election.  But having someone like Mack running would’ve appealed to voters for whom supporting Labor was too much, even if they weren’t happy with the Liberals.  In the end, North Shore voters voted for Mack, costing the Liberals their leader.  Mack went on to hold his seat at the next two elections.

However, in the second half of 1988, just months after winning North Shore for the third time, Mack suddenly resigned from Parliament.  It was apparent that Mack resigned to avoid qualifying for all sorts of post-parliamentary perks, such as a major pension, funded by NSW taxpayers.  As a matter of principle, Mack didn’t feel comfortable with receiving such perks.  How many other politicians would’ve taken a stand like that?

But Mack probably wasn’t finished yet.  In early 1990, he ran for the seat of North Sydney at a Federal election, and he won it, defeating Liberal frontbencher John Spender.  This would’ve been bitter for the Liberals, who came close to winning that Federal election, largely as a result of a voter revolt against Labor in Victoria, but Labor made gains elsewhere to offset its Victorian losses.

Given that Mack twice defeated senior Liberals at elections, at different levels, merely mentioning his name probably makes many Liberals shiver – even though decades have passed since Mack defeated first McDonald and later Spender.

After holding North Sydney at a second election, in 1993, perhaps there was little surprise when Mack chose to retire instead of contesting a third election, in 1996, again to avoid qualifying for post-parliamentary perks.

Being an Independent politician, Mack could only think and act upon principles, although such a principled stand wouldn’t meant that he’d never compromise under any circumstances.  Especially considering how cynical voters have since become of politicians from major parties, someone like Mack might be regarded as a breath of fresh air.

Perhaps it’s sad that people never saw Mack in hung parliaments – he probably would’ve been interesting to observe in a balance-of-power situation, whereby either Labor or the Liberals would’ve required his support to get laws passed.

Ironically, after Mack left NSW Parliament, it was in a hung situation.  This was the result of an election in 1991, where the Liberals lost a majority from 1988.

When Mack first entered NSW Parliament, there was one other Independent keeping him company, John Hatton.  In 1991, after Mack had left, Hatton was among four Independents holding the balance of power.  During the six years when Mack was in Federal Parliament, it was never close to a hung situation.

Lots of Independent MPs, especially in NSW, would regard Mack as a template when they look back at how they’ve worked in their time.  His life was definitely the one to inspire others who believe in acting with principle and integrity when serving as politicians.  His ilk might well be a rare breed.

 

Victorians narrowly endorsing Labor

24 November 2018

 

Victoria has a general election today.  Opinion polls point to the Labor Party, which won power with a workable majority at the last election, in 2014, winning again.  The odds are against the Liberal-National Coalition, which needs a decent-sized swing to win and doesn’t look like getting it.

The last election gave Labor 47 out of 88 seats in the Lower House of Parliament, where governments are formed.  The Coalition came away with 38 seats.  The remaining seats went to a pair of Greens and an Independent.

Opinion polls show a swing of about 1-2 per cent to Labor, which should give it a bigger majority.  But strange circumstances mean that the election mightn’t pan out that way.

The Victorian economy seems to be in good shape, and with much infrastructure being built or upgraded, this looks like a good sign for Labor.  Indeed the infrastructure comes in spite of much anger over Labor’s decision to cancel a planned road tunnel connecting freeways in inner Melbourne.  While the business community might’ve been seething over that cancellation, other infrastructure projects seem to atone for it, especially the removal of many level crossings from Melbourne’s railway network.  And in general, Labor seems to have much going for it.

But issues like crime have hurt Labor, especially perceptions of ethnic gangs committing crime and appearing to avoid prosecution.  Labor has also taken a hit from allegations about misuse of entitlements.  That said, there’s nothing in the opinion polls showing voters itching to punish Labor for these problems.

The Coalition doesn’t appear to be taking much advantage of Labor’s problems.  Looking at the Coalition’s agenda, there’s not much looking capable of swaying voters.

That said, looking at two major newspapers in Victoria, the reactions are mixed.  Labor has the cautious backing of the AGE, while Labor’s scandals have prompted the HERALD SUN to back the Coalition.

Premier Daniel Andrews, who was something of a surprise winner when he led Labor into office in 2014, has done reasonably well, despite many problems.  He was a surprise winner back in 2014 because the Coalition had won power at only the previous election, in 2010, and voters across Australia rarely throw out first-term governments.  Indeed, Labor’s planned cancellation of the inner Melbourne road tunnel made me think that Andrews would lose the election, because cancelling a planned road would’ve arguably meant more of the same of the same in terms of traffic gridlock and slower commutes, but an apparent desire among voters to throw the Coalition out got Andrews home.

Matthew Guy became Opposition Leader after the Coalition lost office, and he’s hardly made that big a difference in the top job.  He doesn’t look or sound like a winner.

Despite some misgivings about Andrews, voters prefer him to Guy as Premier.

Now they look like giving Andrews and Labor another term in power today.  But often elections see seats change hands despite having margins above the range of a uniform swing, while seats within the range of the uniform swing stay unchanged.  With that, today’s election could be different, despite a swing to Labor.

Between this election and the last, Labor lost one of its seats to the Greens in an inner Melbourne by-election, while another Labor MP went to the crossbench.  The Coalition also lost one MP to the crossbench.  This leaves Labor with a bare majority.

In terms of today’s election, I tip Labor to win Ripon and Burwood from the Coalition, and Prahran from the Greens.  Labor will also regain Melton, the seat of crossbencher Don Nardella, who left Labor during the last term and is now retiring.  But Labor will lose Frankston and Cranbourne to the Coalition, and Brunswick to the Greens.

Beyond gaining two seats from Labor while losing another two, the Coalition probably will also regain Morwell, the seat of crossbencher Russell Northe, who left the Coalition during the last term.

These results would give Labor 46 seats and the Coalition 38 seats – enough to preserve Labor’s majority, though not by much.

Both Prahran and Morwell are hard to call.  The Greens narrowly won Prahran in 2014 from the Coalition, but their support has dropped in the polls and they look like losing that seat, although they should hold their by-election gain of Northcote and take away Brunswick with the departure of Labor MP Jane Garrett to the Upper House.  Morwell was in the Coalition’s hands until Northe went to the crossbench, and with a massive field of candidates running but nobody really standing out, I think that the Coalition looks like regaining it.  That said, I won’t be surprised if either seat goes either way.

As for the Upper House, where minor parties fare better than the major parties when running for seats, I tip a hung chamber.  Many minor parties have taken to directing preferences to each other, in order to ensure that their votes don’t flow back to the established political forces.  I expect the result to be the same here, although we might see a different mix of parties elected.

The result of today’s election will probably show Victorians narrowly endorsing Labor, despite Labor’s problems.  There may even be some surprises, but none that I really expect.  Labor looks like hanging on for another four years in Victoria.

 

Wentworth loss with pros and cons

19 November 2018

 

The Liberal-National Coalition seems to have endured a horror run since winning office at a Federal election in 2013.  Its victory largely came off the back of major voter dissatisfaction with the Labor Party, which went through years of bickering over leadership while in office.  Despite endorsing the Coalition, voters had long detested its leader Tony Abbott, and they reluctantly made him Prime Minister.

Once Labor’s leadership squabblers left Parliament, voters turned back to Labor as Abbott continually turned them off.  Such was Abbott’s unpopularity that, less than two years after his 2013 win, voters were itching for his removal from office, even though Labor wasn’t exactly inspiring them.

This led to a leadership coup, in September 2015, and Abbott was dumped from the top job in favour of Malcolm Turnbull.  Initially more popular than Abbott, Turnbull began to look flustered, because he held views on many issues at odds with a large number of Coalition MPs.  Because everybody had long known where he stood on various issues, he looked unable to act upon them, and his credibility suffered.  As a result, when the next election came, in 2016, he only just won.

After this narrow win, Turnbull plodded on, but many Coalition MPs continually pushed to get rid of him.  He managed to survive for two years, but after a series of by-elections losses, one of which saw the Coalition’s share of the vote collapse to less than a third, the anti-Turnbull forces went troppo.

In August this year, Turnbull survived a leadership challenge, but with another challenge called for just days later, he resigned.  His only saving grace was that succeeding him wasn’t Peter Dutton, his challenger from days before, but Scott Morrison.  With a narrow majority, Morrison was left with a mountain to climb, with Turnbull having gone less than a year out from a due election.

Turnbull had decided that he’d quit Parliament if he lost the leadership – he was true to his word.  This triggered a by-election in his seat of Wentworth, in eastern Sydney.  At first glance, this by-election shouldn’t have meant much, given that Wentworth hasn’t ever been in Labor hands since its creation in 1901.

But the by-election, which came in October, saw Wentworth fall to a very popular Independent candidate.  This in turn cost the Coalition its parliamentary majority and forced Morrison to rely on crossbench support to pass legislation.

Despite this setback, I reckon that the Coalition’s Wentworth loss actually comes with pros and cons.  It might be actually a mixed blessing.

The problems are clear enough.  With the Coalition losing its majority, its work becomes harder.  And losing a seat like Wentworth, even to another non-Labor candidate, inevitably hurts.  Moreover, having been behind Labor in countless opinion polls since the last election, the Coalition doesn’t look like it can win.

Is there a silver lining to this cloud?  I’m inclined to think so.

Being in one of the wealthiest parts of Australia, Wentworth isn’t a typical seat watched at election time, because most of the seats capturing attention during elections are in outer suburbia and some regional centres, where people usually have lower incomes and are more prone to changing their minds.

A relative of mine once told me that people who don’t fear losing their jobs and their homes turn “progressive” when they vote, caring more about environmental and social issues, including climate change immigration and sexuality, whereas people afraid of losing their jobs and their homes vote “conservative”.  The latter will more likely care about the economy and energy prices and their community.

Those voting for “progressive” parties tend to live in seats like Wentworth.  Their views on environmental issues and energy prices are almost certainly different from those in outer suburban seats.  Losing Wentworth means that the Coalition won’t be pulled different ways.

Also, I can’t help thinking that Turnbull did Morrison a favour when he departed politics.  If Turnbull had stayed, given the circumstances of his downfall and the massive support that he enjoyed among the country’s elites, Morrison might well be having migraines.  The very presence of Turnbull in Parliament was certainly going to leave his supporters, especially in media and academia, agitating to bring him back to the top job.

Long before becoming PM, Morrison had developed a reputation as an impressive listener and negotiator and persuader when only a minister.  Without a majority in the Senate, the Coalition has long needed Senate crossbenchers to get anything passed.  If Morrison is still that good, he’ll need to use his skills even more.

The Wentworth by-election loss definitely hurt the Coalition.  But this won’t mean disaster before the next election comes.